Claudio Abbado / Renée Fleming / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Mahler: Symphony No. 4; Berg: Sieben frühe Lieder

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Incredibly, the world's greatest living conductor is getting better as he gets older. It's true -- Claudio Abbado, whose combination of effortless technique, lucid textures, and luminous tone coupled with his endless love for music has made him the preeminent conductor of our time, has only gotten better with age. Abbado's first Mahler's Fourth from 1978 is beautifully played by the Vienna Philharmonic, radiantly sung by Frederica von Stade, and joyously conducted by the young Maestro at the first peak of his powers. After his successful years with the Berlin Philharmonic and especially after some health problems, Abbado's second Mahler's Fourth from 2005 is extraordinarily spiritually led by the old Master at the peak of his interpretative abilities. His fluent technique is even more refined, but Abbado now seems more relaxed and thus more expressive than before, allowing and even encouraging portamento and vibrato. His lucid textures are less contrapuntal now and more flowing and his luminous lines are more lyrical and even more luminous. And his endless love of music -- and of life -- has infused the performance with a tangible sense of transcendence. The Berlin Philharmonic responds to its former music director with obvious affection and consummate artistry. Some listeners might find that Renée Fleming is too ironically maternal for the child's view of heaven that closes the symphony, but no listener will complain that Fleming is anything less than incandescently erotic in Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder that closes the disc. Deutsche Grammophon's live sound is entirely translucent.

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